The term “arms race” conjures images of nations building a stockpile of the most lethal, more significant, faster, and deadlier weapons. Regarding intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Russia holds the battle-winning factor. Satan-II, officially known as RS-28 Sarmat – a colossal and powerful weapon system in Russia’s arsenal enjoys the reputation of being the biggest, heaviest, and fastest ICBM in the world. The RS-28 Sarmat missile would replace the existing R-36 (SS-18 Satan) hence it is called Satan-II.
The next-generation RS-28 Sarmat with an impressive range and destructive power is one of the deadliest missiles — capable of travelling thousands of kilometres to destroy their target on the other side of planet Earth. The powerful long-range Sarmat Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are designed to deliver nuclear or conventional payloads over vast distances. Such is their clout that the USA and its allies virtual shiver at its mere sight and often refer to it as ‘Satan II’.
Birth of the Sarmat
The origins of the RS-28 Sarmat or SS-X-30 Satan 2, can be traced back to the Cold War era when the Soviet Union and the United States were trying to overshadow each other by developing a formidable missile system. However, the development of the Satan-II truly gained momentum in the early 2010s when the Makeyev Design Bureau took the initiative to develop this deadly weapon system to replace the ageing R-36M2 Voyevoda missile, which had been in service since the 1970s. A formidable weapon in its own right, the Voyevoda missile was capable of delivering multiple warheads with precision but was based on outdated technology – spurring the need for the development of a more modern and powerful successor.
It was intended to be a powerful ICBM capable of carrying multiple warheads and penetrating missile defence systems. Being a key component of Russia’s nuclear deterrent strategy, its development was shrouded in secrecy.
Finally, the Sarmat missile was test-launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region on April 20, 2022, just months after Russia invaded Ukraine and the contract was signed for the mass production in August 2022 at the Krasnoyarsk Machine-Building Plant (KrasMash). Though the project details are being kept a closely guarded secret, the first batch of Sarmat missiles is expected to be delivered and deployed for combat duty by the end of 2023.
RS-28 Sarmat – the devil unleashed
Like its predecessor the R-36 missiles and space launch vehicles (Tsyklon) deployed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the RS-28 Sarmat is a three-stage, liquid-fueled ICBM equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). It can carry 10 to 15 MIRV warheads of 750 kilotons each, 16 smaller ones, a combination of warheads and countermeasures, or three hypersonic Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles.
RS-28 Sarmat is equipped with Mozyr Active Protection System, designed to release metal arrows or balls to confuse incoming enemy bombs, cruise missiles, and ICBM warheads.
The Sarmat missile has a range of 18,000 km and can hit targets on the other side of the planet in less than one hour. During its test flight in April 2022, it took just 20 minutes to hit a target in the Kura range in Kamchatka about 6,000 km away.
Above all, RS-28 Sarmat has an explosive power of up to 500 kilotons capable of flattening a major town or city. To put this into perspective, the atomic bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 had an explosive power of just 15 and 21 kilotons, respectively.
Satan-II’s Unrivaled Dimensions
One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the RS-28 Sarmat is its sheer size and weight. This ICBM is aptly nicknamed “Satan-II” due to its imposing stature. With a reported weight of approximately 208 metric tons and a length of over 35 meters, it dwarfs its predecessor, the R-36M2 Voyevoda, which weighed around 211 metric tons but was considerably shorter. The sheer bulk of the Satan-II necessitates the use of heavy-duty launch platforms to accommodate its massive size.
Unmatched Payload Capacity
The Satan-II is not just a giant in terms of size; it also boasts an unmatched payload capacity. It is designed to carry up to 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each with a yield of 750 kilotons to 1.2 megatons. This means that a single RS-28 Sarmat missile has the potential to devastate multiple targets across a vast area, making it a potent deterrent. The ability to deliver such a substantial payload to multiple locations makes it a significant threat in any conflict scenario.
Impenetrable Defence Mechanisms
The Russian military has taken measures to ensure the RS-28 Sarmat is a formidable weapon that can penetrate even the most advanced missile defence systems. It is believed to have advanced countermeasures to evade interception, such as decoys and advanced manoeuvring capabilities during its flight trajectory. This makes it incredibly difficult for anti-ballistic missile systems to intercept and neutralize the Satan-II, bolstering its status as a reliable second-strike option.
Exceptional Range and Speed
The RS-28 Sarmat is not only massive but also exceptionally fast and boasts an impressive range. It is reported to have a range of approximately 18,000 kilometres, making it capable of striking virtually any target on Earth. Furthermore, it is known to reach speeds of Mach 20 during its reentry phase, making it one of the fastest ICBMs in existence. This combination of range and speed allows it to strike targets with minimal warning, reducing the likelihood of effective defences being deployed in time.
The Impact on Global Security
The introduction of the RS-28 Sarmat has significant implications for global security and nuclear deterrence. While Russia officially states that the Satan-II is designed to replace ageing missile systems, its capabilities go beyond mere replacement. The sheer destructive power and ability to bypass missile defences make it a game-changer in the realm of nuclear deterrence.
The RS-28 Sarmat enhances Russia’s nuclear deterrence posture. Its ability to carry multiple warheads with precision targeting makes it a credible threat, discouraging potential adversaries from engaging in a nuclear conflict. The fear of retaliation from such a formidable weapon acts as a powerful deterrent against aggression.
Arms Race Concerns
The development and deployment of the Satan-II may reignite concerns of a new arms race. Other nuclear-armed nations may feel compelled to develop or enhance their own nuclear capabilities to maintain strategic parity. This could lead to increased global tensions and instability.
Evasion of Missile Defense
The RS-28 Sarmat’s ability to evade advanced missile defence systems poses a challenge to countries heavily invested in missile defence technology, such as the United States. It raises questions about the effectiveness of existing anti-ballistic missile systems and the need for continued investment in defensive capabilities.
Maintaining strategic stability in a world with increasingly advanced and powerful ICBMs like the Satan-II becomes a complex task. Diplomatic efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and enhance transparency become crucial to preventing miscalculations and unintentional conflicts.
US Minuteman vs. Russian Sarmat
By way of comparison, the American land-based intercontinental ballistic missile Minuteman LGM-30 comes closest to the Sarmat.
The LGM-30G Minuteman III is the only land-based ICBM in service in the United States along with the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.
However, the Minuteman has a shorter operational range of up to 13,000 km and a smaller throw weight. The US primarily relies on its fleet of nuclear-armed submarines for its heaviest nuclear firepower.
The RS-28 Sarmat, aptly nicknamed Satan-II, stands as a testament to Russia’s commitment to maintaining a potent nuclear deterrent. Its colossal size, unmatched payload capacity, impenetrable defence mechanisms, exceptional range, and staggering speed make it a formidable weapon system. While it may be seen as a necessary replacement for ageing missile technology, its capabilities have far-reaching implications for global security; arms control efforts, and the delicate balance of nuclear deterrence. As the world watches the development and deployment of the RS-28 Sarmat, it serves as a stark reminder of the ever-present spectre of nuclear weapons and the imperative of international cooperation in preventing their use.
-The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda